vivian campbell

VHS Archives #2: Hear N’ Aid Special – Pepsi Power Hour (1986)

The one VHS tape I’m working on currently spans a period of recordings from about July 1986 to September 1987. This Hear N’ Aid special features a MuchMusic interview conducted by J.D. (John) Roberts. There’s lots of exclusive information in this valuable video, including a tidbit on bands who refused to be in the same project as Spinal Tap!

REVIEW: Whitesnake – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition box set)

WHITESNAKE – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition Rhino box set)

Back when I reviewed the original “Deluxe” edition of Whitesnake’s 1987, I said, “Great album, but this reissue could have been so much better.”  And so here we are.

Let’s get right down to it.  You already know the story of Whitesnake 1987 or you wouldn’t be here.

The main feature is the 2017 remaster of 1987, which actually sounds pretty great.  In this day and age, if you’re seeking the warmth of a vintage vinyl experience, you can go and have that experience for far less money than this box set costs.  For a compact disc, this might be as good as we’ve gotten so far.  If you look at the Audacity waveforms below, you can see the 2017 remaster (top) has roughly the same levels as a previous one from Whitesnake Gold.

I’m still hanging on to my original UK version of 1987, but for compact disc, this is probably it.


David Coverdale wanted to adapt Whitesnake to the 1980s with this album, and this lineup with John Sykes, Neil Murray, and new drummer Aynsley Dunbar was certainly able to deliver.  The album was always loud, especially compared to their 70s output.  Sykes provided the squeals that the kids wanted.  David was back in top voice.  The album they delivered is legendary for how it changed Whitesnake’s fortunes.

The running order on this box set is not the original UK or US, but the combined running order as used on the previous 20th anniversary edition.

“Still of the Night” blows the doors in, a tornado in the night, mighty and sexy too.  Whitesnake had never been this aggressive before, but “Give Me All Your Love” lulls the listener back to something easier to digest on first listen.  “Give Me All Your Love” was a successful single because it’s melodic pop rock with guitars.  But then the band scorch again with “Bad Boys”, top speed right into your daughter’s headphones!  Whether it was Aynsley Dunbar or just the songs that they wrote, the pace is high gear.

“Is This Love”, a song that David was writing with Tina Turner in mind, was another massive hit.   John Kolodner (John Kolodner) insisted that they keep it for themselves, and he was right as he often was.  For a big 80s ballad, “Is This Love” really was perfect.  It tends to work better in a stripped back arrangement, since the original is so specifically tailored to that era.  Still, Sykes’ solo on it has to be one of his best.

Speaking of hits, “Here I Go Again” is the one that Sykes didn’t want to do, and look what happened.  That humble pie probably tasted no good to Sykes when he found himself fired by Coverdale after the album was completed.  His replacement, Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg) actually played the guitar solo, so dissatisfied was Coverdale with the one Sykes produced.  “Here I Go Again” was of course a minor hit from Saints & Sinners, but deserving of a second shot in America with production more suited to their tastes.  Don Airey on keyboards; though Whitesnake did without an official keyboardist this time.

“Straight For the Heart” is a great also-ran that perhaps could have been another single if they kept trottin’ them out instead of stopping at four.  High speed but with incredible hooks, it’s impossible not to like.  “Looking For Love” is the second ballad, but actually originally unreleased in the US.  It’s toned down from the style of “Is This Love”, and Neil Murray’s bass is pronounced.  He was a huge part of the groove on this album, if you really settle in and listen to the rhythm section.  His bass has a certain “bop” to it.  “Children of the Night” returns the tempo to allegro and the lyrics to dirty.  I can’t imagine too many fathers of the 80s wanted their daughters to go to the Whitesnake concert if they heard David cooing, “Don’t run for cover, I’m gonna show you what I’ve learned, just come a little closer, come on an’ get your fingers burned.” Another UK exclusive, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” cools it down slightly, but that Sykes riff is hot like a torch!

“Crying in the Rain” is held back to second-last in this running order, even though it opened the US album.  Another re-recording, “Crying in the Rain” was suggested by Kolodner because he knew Sykes could give it that massive blues rock sound that it had in the live setting.  Again, he was right.  “Crying in the Rain” is massive — perhaps the most sheerly heavy piece of rock that Whitesnake ever dug up.  Finally the CD closes with the last ballad, “Don’t Turn Away”, which closed the US version.  It’s a fine song indeed, and a really good vibe on which to end Whitesnake 1987.


The second CD in this set is called Snakeskin Boots:  Live on Tour 1987-1988.  Presumably, these are recordings from throughout the tour, assembled into a CD-length running order.  The “boots” in the title implies bootleg quality, but it certainly sounds better than that.  Soundboards maybe?

The studio lineup of Whitesnake dissolved and David got Vandenberg in, followed by Vivian Campbell (Dio) and the rhythm section of Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne).  This new lineup was not based in the whiskey blues of the old band(s), but in the flashy stylings of the 1980s.  Vivian and Vandenberg were both capable of shredding your brain.  That’s generally how they do it on these recordings.  Opening with “Bad Boys”, the manic tempo is maintained while the guitars reach for the stratosphere.

Sounds like it was a hell of a show, rolling into the groove of “Slide it In” and “Slow An’ Easy”, and the good news is the 1987 band can play the 1984 songs too.  David Coverdale is the ringmaster, the veteran, confident and in prime voice.  All the songs are from either 1987 or Slide it In, with only one exception:  the slow blues “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” from the original 1978 Snakebite EP.  Sounds like Vivian Campbell accompanying David on this slow, classy blues.  No Deep Purple in the set; but my old pal Rob Vuckovich once said he went to the Toronto show on this tour bearing a flag that said “PLAY PURPLE”.  He also claimed David acknowledged it by saying, “We’re not playing any of that!”

“Here I Go Again” comes early on the CD, fourth in line, and it’s excellent.  “Guilty of Love” is a nice surprise, and “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is more than welcome at the party.  “Is This Love” is well received, and works well in the live setting without too much extra production.  Adrian can’t top the Sykes solo, though he gets within very close range.  Vivian and Adrian get a feature solo with a keyboard backdrop, and it’s quite good — more like an instrumental than just a solo.  It leads into a brutally heavy “Crying in the Rain”; Tommy Aldridge literally beats the shit out of it!  The CD closes on “Give Me All Your Love” with David substituting the word “baby” in the opening line with “Tawny”!

There’s little question.  For most fans, the major draw of this box set will be this live CD.  If that is you, you will not be disappointed by Snakeskin Boots.


Disc three in this monolith of a box set is the 87 Evolutions.  This is an interesting concept but not one that you will be craving to have a listen regularly.  This disc is intended for deeper study.  These tracks are the album’s songs in various stage of demoing.  “Still of the Night” for example starts as a living room demo, with David slapping his knees for drums, and only the most basic of lyrics.  Then this demo fades seamlessly into a more advanced full band arrangement, with the lyrics still unfinished.  There’s a funky middle solo section here that is more jam than song, but a blast to hear.

That is the kind of thing you can expect to hear on 87 Evolutions.  No need to spoil what you should enjoy discovering yourself.  This is for the hardcore of hardcore fans, those that want every squeal that ever came from Sykes’ axe.  You are gonna get it.  Incidentally, I think I prefer David’s original, rough slow bluesy version of “Give Me All Your Love” to the glossy pop song it became.

This disc ends with a “Ruff Mix” of the completed “Crying in the Rain” from Little Mountain studios.  All the parts are in place, the mix just needed that modern bombast that David was aiming for.


The fourth and final CD, 87 Versions, is a collection of alternate remixes released on various singles, and brand new remixes as well.  These are really cool bonuses.  The 2017 mix of “Still of the Night” has a really dry sound, allowing you to really hear the spaces between the instruments.  A lot of these remixes have a different balance of instruments, so you will hear different things yourself.  There are two remixes of “Give Me All Your Love” on this CD:  the 2017 with the original Sykes solo, and the highly coveted alternate with “new” solo by Vivian Campbell.  There are also two remixes of “Here I Go Again”, including the old “Radio Mix” with a completely different group of musicians and a much more pop arrangement.

Among these remixes is something called the 1987 Versions:  Japan Mini-Album, proving that Japan always get the best stuff.  This apparent EP contains the B-sides and bonus tracks that you couldn’t get on the album.  “Standing in the Shadows” was another song re-recorded for 1987, though left as a B-side.  “Looking For Love” and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” are also included, since back then you could only get them in the UK.  “Need Your Love So Bad” was a previous Whitesnake B-side, remixed in 1987 for a new B-side!  It’s an absolutely stunning ballad, quiet with only keyboard accompaniment.

With all these tracks included, pretty much every track associated with the 1987 album and singles is covered.


Whitesnake: The Videos is the fifth disc, a DVD.  It’s really just an add-on, nothing substantial (like a 5.1 mix).  First on the menu:  “More Fourplay”, the classic MTV videos that set the world on fire in 1987.  Some behind the scenes footage too.  MTV was a huge part of this band’s success (hopefully Tawny gets paid a royalty from this reissue?).  These glossy videos are…well, they didn’t age as well as the album did.  Why does Rudy always lick his bass?  You just gotta laugh at “Here I Go Again”; the pretentious image of the three guys (Viv, Adrian, Rudy) playing keyboards passionately side by side…utterly silly.  But yet iconic.  “Is This Love” has the band playing on evening rooftops, Rudy wielding a double-neck bass.  Why?  Doesn’t matter; in 1987 we thought it was awesome.  “Give Me All Your Love” is a notable video, being a “live on stage” type, but also with the brand new guitar solo cut by Vivian.  For his solo, Viv chose to play on the wang bar a bit too much, but at least David let him do one.  It remains Vivian’s only studio appearance with Whitesnake, ever.  Unannounced but cool just the same, “Love Ain’t No Stranger” (from Slide It In) is used in whole as the end credit song for the “More Fourplay” segment.

Next up is a 28 minute documentary about the making of the album.  David has clear recollections and is always a delight to listen to. (Some vintage Coverdale interview footage is actually from a MuchMusic piece with Denise Donlon.) Interestingly, he claims that the “Still of the Night” riff is one that he found in his mother’s attic, that he wrote back in the tail of Deep Purple.  “Still of the Night” could have been a Purple song, but it took John Sykes to make it what it became.  We then move on to the assembly of the touring lineup, dubbed the “United Nations of Rock”.  Tommy and Rudy are also interviewed in vintage clips, with Tommy proudly proclaiming that they want to bring musicality back to rock and roll.

The “Purplesnake Video Jam” (whut?) video of “Here I Go Again” is basically a brand new music video using alternate footage from the time.  The mix is similar to the old single mix, but spruced up.  Finally there is the “’87 Tour Bootleg”, and woah!  It’s pro-shot multi-camera footage.  You only get half of “Crying in the Rain”, and all of “Still of the Night”.  Why not more?  Is this a tease for some kind of upcoming DVD?  The footage reveals a band of their time, but a good band.  Not the best Whitesnake lineup ever (Sykes gets that), but a good lineup with something special together.  They were tight, they could all play their nuts off, and present a high energy 80s stageshow, especially Rudy.  By the end of “Still of the Night”, David is actually dodging panties being thrown at his head.  I kid you not.


As per usual, any box set worth its own respect is packed with added stuff usually made of paper.  In this case, a nice hard cover booklet, a smaller softcover lyric book, and a poster.  Posters have to be the biggest waste of money in a set like this.  Who’s going to hang it?  I’m probably never even to unfold mine once.

Now that you have all the details, you should be able to decide if this box set needs to be in your collection.  It needed to be in mine.  And guess what — Slide it In is next!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Lost Session (2018)

DEF LEPPARD – The Lost Session (2018 iTunes)

Cast your memories back to 2012.  Def Leppard re-recorded some very high quality “forgeries” of some of their classic hits for iTunes.  Three of these iTunes singles were released:

  1. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” / “Rock of Ages”
  2. “Acoustic Medley 2012”
  3. “Hysteria 2013”

The iTunes exclusive concept dried up for Def Leppard afterwards, but in 2018 we got six more tracks, from a 2006 “lost session”.  The rest of the songs don’t sound like “forgeries”, as the first ones did.  These are listed on iTunes as “live”.  They are not.  They are also not meticulously recorded recreations.  They lie somewhere between:  not fully live, but raw in a way that Leppard rarely are.

There are a number of surprises in the re-recordings.  First and foremost:  “Let It Go”!  Any Leppard fan will tell you that the 1981 High N’ Dry LP is Leppard at their early, heavy best.  While nothing can compete with the Mutt Lange produced original, the re-recording is still razor sharp.  It gives you a chance to hear Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell on lead guitar.  The pair do not attempt to imitate Pete Willis and Steve Clark, instead blazing their own trail.

You don’t have to wait for the second surprise, a baffling one indeed: a re-recording of “Rock On” from 2006’s covers album Yeah!  Why do Leppard keep playing this song?  (It was even on their recent Best Of.)  Considering how they’ve beaten this dead horse, it’s actually not much of a surprise after all.  It was a boring song to start with, and Leppard can’t save it just by throwing down more guitars.  “When Love and Hate Collide” is another surprising choice to re-record.  The guitars are pretty incredible, but it’s just a ballad from a 1995 greatest hits CD.

“Foolin'” from Pyromania is missing the atmosphere of the original, but otherwise hits all the notes.  Joe Elliott still has an enviable voice.  Then it’s “Promises” from Euphoria, their best song from a dreary era.  Sure it’s a formulaic rewrite of their best hits rolled into one, but it works.  This re-recording is closest in sound and spirit to the original (from 1999).  Finally “Bringing On the Heartbreak” is a smokeshow as the closer.  It’s hard to really call it a ballad; there is some heavy rocking here too.  The guitars sound fabulous.  Def Leppard may no longer be the band they were in the 80s, but Phil and Viv are two of the best players in the game.  They don’t show off, so people rarely think of them when listing great guitarists.  But they are.  The outro solo (sounds like Vivian) nails it!

Def Leppard’s Lost Session is perfect for the fans who have it all.  Re-recordings are almost always very dicey cash grabs.  Leppard’s are worth the purchase.  They’re not cheap knock-offs.  New slants are fused with the old classics, so take these songs out for a fresh spin.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Dio – The Last in Line (deluxe edition)

DIO – The Last in Line (originally 1984, 2010 Universal deluxe edition)

Ronnie James Dio used to consider the second albums he did as inferior to the first ones.  Second Rainbow wasn’t as good as the first; same with the second Sabbath, according to Ronnie.  Is that also true for The Last in Line compared to the legendary Holy Diver?

Comparing the two is much like splitting hairs.  The two albums are so close in style and quality that it really doesn’t even matter.

A better opener than “We Rock” is hard to find.  The blitz of drums and riff was custom made for bangin’ on the stage.  It’s unusual to hear a song where the drums are a major hook, but Vinny Appice has a way of doing just that.  He gives you the urge to air-drum every time he throws down a fill.

Dio had an interesting pattern for his albums in the early days, up to Dream Evil (1987).  The albums always began with something fast.  In the song two position:  always the title track!  (The title track of each album always had a few lines of lyrics printed in the album sleeve too!) And so it is with “The Last in Line”.  The soft and ballad-y opening lures one into that “safe place”…before Dio lets it loose.  One of his best and most memorable music videos went with “The Last in Line”, absolutely one of the legendary man’s most notable songs. Its reputation is well earned, as all the pieces are in the right and you never get tired of hearing it.

We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil or divine, we’re the last in line!

With the first two tracks being so legendary to Dio fandom, it’s easy to understand how the next batch often get lost in the shuffle.  “Breathless” lacks for nothing.  Vivian Campbell’s solo spot is blazing stuff, and the song is memorable enough for head banging.  Accelerating into “I Speed at Night”, hooks are sacrificed for tempo.  It’s quintessential 80s heavy metal when speed was such an important thing.  Not a bad tune, but one with only a single purpose — banging thine head.

“One Night in the City” takes the time to allow the hooks to percolate through.  Vinny and bassist Jimmy Bain lock into a mid-paced groove while Ronnie lays down one of his typically emotive melodies.  Though it simmers on a back burner, “One Night in the City” is hot just the same.  “Evil Eyes” is also a high quality tune, and if it’s familiar that might be because an earlier version was a B-side, included on the Holy Diver deluxe edition.  Naturally, the album version is more polished, but as for which is better, that’s up to the listener.  Then there is “Mystery”, arguably Dio’s most “pop” single.  Not such a bad thing, after all Ronnie James Dio also did right by “Love is All” from the Butterfly Ball.

We are lightning, we are flame, and we burn at the touch of a spark.

“Eat Your Heart Out” is the only stumble, but it’s soon paid back with “Egypt (The Chains are On)”, a Dio epic in true metal fashion.  Who doesn’t love a good plodding metal epic about Egyptian legends?  It’s a second or third tier metal motif!  Ronnie brings his own metal melodrama to the fore.

The Last in Line is already a great album, certainly up to the quality of Holy Diver with equally memorable material.  This carries over to the bonus CD included in the deluxe edition.  Four single B-sides from the era are included.  They are live versions of “Eat Your Heart Out”, with “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” (all originally from Holy Diver).  The only two B-sides missing are “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” live at Donington 1983, from “The Last in Line” 12″ single.  These tracks however can be found on the 2010 CD release, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 

Finally we have Dio’s entire set from the 1984 Pink Pop festival.  Naturally there is some overlap with the previous live tracks:  “Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  This is offset by a smattering of Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics:  “Stargazer”, “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Heaven and Hell”.  The audio is quite good and Jimmy Bain’s bass has a nice full thump to it.  The Last in Line is one deluxe you’ll want to add to your collection

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Rock the Cradle Lullabies volume 1 – Dreamin’ with Def Leppard (2011)

CD given to me a couple years ago by Mr. Books.

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ROCK THE CRADLE LULLABIES volume 1 – Dreamin’ with Def Leppard (2011 Happiness Records)

They call these lullabies, but I’m not so sure about that word.  Bon Jovi did an actual album like this, and titled it This Left Feels Right, I believe.

Slowed down, acoustic bluesy and laid back instrumental versions of Def Leppard songs will be found on this CD, easily digestible by anyone.  Their effectiveness as lullabies has not been tested under lab conditions but for casual listening in any age group, it should be well received.  As stated on a sticker on the front, Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen from Def Leppard make guest appearances (three songs each).

The liner notes state that the technique for “lullification” of these hits involved distilling them down to their core melodies.  That makes the songs both easily identifiable and readily enjoyable.  A mellow slide guitar often fills in for a lead singer.  Phil and Vivian’s work should be identifiable for fans to pick out.  Ballads tend to work better than rock songs like “Photograph” or “Pour Some Sugar”, and there are even a few surprising selections from outside the usual Pyromania and Hysteria suspects.  “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” is a particularly good mellow treat.

Buy it for your baby, or yourself.

 

zzz/5 stars

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This is a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Mirrorball: Live & More (2011 Japanese with bonus track)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Down to the nitty gritty!  This is the second last review in this series.  Mike and Aaron have been doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums that they have sent to each other. This one was gifted to Aaron when Mike upgraded to the Japanese edition.  Enjoy!

DEF LEPPARD – Mirrorball: Live & More (2011 Marquee Japan)

Def Leppard hyped this baby as their “first official live album”.  First official live album? Maybe, but the astute collector had already been aware of a 1984 live album included with the deluxe 2 CD edition of Pyromania.   For vintage 80’s Leppard thrills featuring Steve Clark, that’s the ultimate go-to live CD.  More obscurely, after the Euphoria album, Def Leppard issued an entire live album’s worth (11 songs) of MP3 files for free, which are no longer around. You can read our review of that untitled release right here.

Scan_20160302 (5)Regardless, this is the first stand-alone Leppard live album (double live, in fact) that you can walk into a store and buy.   The domestic version comes with a bonus DVD, with behind-the-scenes stuff and music videos (“Nine Lives” and “C’mon C’mon” from the Sparkle Lounge album).

Upon inserting Mirrorball into the car drive and hitting “play”, the first thing I was impressed with was Joe Elliot’s voice. The singer is often the member who suffers most from the ageing process.  Singers like Joe who basically screamed for the first few albums don’t always have the ability to do it convincingly anymore.  The “old voice” is usually gone.  However here it is, right in the opening of “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”. It recurs many times over the course of the album.

All the hits are here, even the ones you’d rather forget like “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Make Love Like a Man”. The set leans heavily of course on Pyromania and Hysteria, with most of the singles being rolled out: “Rock Of Ages”, “Foolin'”, “Photograph”, “Animal”, “Hysteria”, “Love Bites”, “Sugar”, and “Armageddon”. Album classic “Too Late For Love” is also present, as is the perennial medley of “Bringing On The Heartbreak/Switch 625”. “Heartbreak” has a nice acoustic intro, different from the one that Leppard used to do back in the 80’s (see: Live in the Round in Your Face).

Then, you get a few boring tracks.  Some of these, such as cover tunes, I have no idea why they still play them live.  Do they not have enough old originals that fans are clamouring for?  Did we really need covers on Leppard’s first official live album? No. But there’s “Rock On” anyway.  I hate that song.  And The Sweet’s “Action” is here, again, which I guess has almost become a Def Leppard song itself.  For other dull content, the B-side-later-A-side “Two Steps Behind” also appears, a song which was never more than a throw-away to me.

As far as more recent material goes: Two songs from Adrenalize, none from Slang, none from Euphoria, none from X.

At least they included three songs from the latest album, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge: The awful, derivative  heard-it-all-before “C’mon C’mon”, as well as a smokin’ version of “Bad Actress” and the single “Nine Lives” (without Tim McGraw!).  Regardless of what’s included and what’s not (you can make your own wishlist of tunes!), Mirrorball does represent the Def Leppard live experience well.  They are bang-on, every track.  These five guys have really grown together as a band.  It doesn’t sound like much fixing was done; indeed it doesn’t sound like much needed to be done.  Four of them can sing well enough, so the trademark Leppard layers are well represented live.

Onto the new studio songs: None are very special, but at least two rock: “Undefeated” is the catchiest, even though it has derivative “Sugar”-like moments that don’t help.  It has a thick Zepp-y chorus riff though, and that gives it some heft.  “It’s All About Believin'” also rocks, but Sav’s “Kings Of The World” is too soft. Leppard need to stay away from the ballady-stuff.  They’ve got more than enough now.

As is the norm, those lucky Japanese fans got a bonus track.  It is the descriptively titled “different version” of “Kings of the World”.  What’s different?  It doesn’t appear to be a demo, but it is a shorter version, piano-based with most of the instrumentation stripped off and an acoustic guitar solo.  My preference is to the more bombastic and Queen-like album mix.

For a first official one, Mirrorball is a pretty good live album. It could have been a lot better. It should have been better, considering.  However they did do better, when they released the next live package, Viva Hysteria!   That one scratches virtually every musical itch you have.  And don’t forget, you can pick up that aforementioned deluxe edition of Pyromania for a youthful, smokin’ set.

3/5 stars

 

 

DVD REVIEW: Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (2009)

TAYLOR SWIFT & DEF LEPPARD – CMT Crossroads (2009 Walmart exclusive DVD)

“Of course that country cop out track (“Nine Lives”) is brutal…Leppard has no place for CMT! I remember hearing about the Swift deal…I had zero interest. I was like, ‘How can a band that put out stellar product (basically the first four albums) go and cross over!??’ I mean right out of the Sixx play book entitled Following Trends!”Deke from Metal Shatz

“There’s always a first day when you discover a band, be it the Beatles or Taylor Swift, when you hear the name for the first time and then you go and check it out. So we just Googled her, iTuned her, listened to it all and said, ‘Wow’!” — Joe Elliott

“I like to write songs about what’s going on in my life.” — Taylor Swift, stating the obvious

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Before the Swifties come and tear us apart for what you’re about to read, let’s be perfectly clear. Taylow Swift is very talented and has a genuine love for Def Leppard’s music. She is also an incredibly bright individual, and she has written more hits than Def Leppard in a fraction of the time. Both of them started in their teens, and are guilty of using outside writers. In the included interview footage, she and Def Lep seem like a mutual admiration society. We have nothing against Taylor Swift here, though her brand of pop music is never heard around LeBrain HQ…save this Walmart exclusive DVD release.

How did they hook up? Taylor was on tour with “Tim and Faith” (McGraw and Hill) who’s tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. She expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with them, and then the phone rang.

Leppard and the Swift’s band share the stage, dual drummers, umpteen guitar players, and fiddle…but on a heavier track like “Photograph” you can’t really hear her group. Taylor gets the first line (she says she felt like a kid in a candy store to do so); then she and Joe swap. It’s clear that she doesn’t have the power nor the control that Joe Elliot has. Her voice is whispy by comparison. It’s also weird to see a girl in a gold mini-dress and cowboy boots fronting Def Leppard, but talk about dreams come true! I’m sure Def Leppard didn’t mind the national exposure either.

“Picture to Burn” is the kind of candy-coated pop country that irritates so many fans of the old fashioned stuff. Taylor is more at home on her own songs, but Joe has never sounded more awkward. Taylor’s band dominates on this song, with only a few Phil Collen guitar squeals to remind you he’s there. Tellingly, Joe Elliot says of her music, “You take the banjos and fiddles off, and you’ve got pop.” The next Taylor number, “Love Story” is one I’ve heard on pop radio many times, but it’s hard to suffer through. It brings back bad memories of Leppard’s pop disaster, X.

Taylor butchers my favourite Def Leppard ballad, “Hysteria”. The song successfully absorbs the twang, but again, Swift just lacks the vocal power to blast it the way Joe can. Her own ballad “Teardrops on my Guitar” is so laid back that most of the Leppard guys are sitting down for it. The bands mesh well and the song is pretty good, although she has a guitar player who kind of looks like a goth country emo Russell Brand. She’s at home on Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide”. Once again the meshing of the two bands works well here. There’s a full string section, plus backing vocalists crowding the already overloaded stage, but that’s what the song calls for and it’s genuinely great version of the well-worn hit. “Should’ve Said No” is a Swift song I don’t know, but it’s one of those pop tracks that just feels like it was written by a computer. It transforms directly into the show closer “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, but…damn. Taylor’s out of breath. She is audibly gasping (a big no-no) between lines and unable to deliver the goods. With the fiddle and extra accouterments added, this one’s a write-off.

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There are three bonus tracks that weren’t broadcast as part of the show: One Swift, two Leppard. Taylor says she wrote “Our Song” in ninth grade (“three years ago, actually”). That’s exactly what it sounds like, ninth grade pop, but obviously there is a need in the world for that kind of kid-friendly music. Leppard fans won’t find any appeal here. They will however appreciate “Love”, the only new Leppard song in the set. Interestingly it starts with only Taylor and two of her guitarists on stage, then Leppard emerge from the shadows. As a duet, it’s enjoyable, and it’s overall probably the heaviest thing all night. The much-overplayed “Two Steps Behind” is the final bonus track. The fun thing here is trying to count the number of people playing guitar on stage. (Eight plus fiddle and Rick Savage on acoustic five-string.)

Phil Collen gets bonus points for wearing a jacket on stage, dressing up a bit for the television, but he sticks to tradition by having no shirt on underneath.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Official 11 track live mp3 collection (2000-2001)

This review is for Scott, your Heavy Metal OverloRd.

LEP 1999DEF LEPPARD – Official 11 track live mp3 collection, download only (2000-2001)

We at LeBrain HQ have always loved being able to shed some light on music that is so rare, that you just can’t find out much of anything about online anymore.  It seems one of most obscure categories of rare music are official downloads from long ago that were never physically released, and long since taken down.  15 years isn’t a long time ago, but did you know that in 2000-2001, Def Leppard gradually put up 11 live tracks to download from their official site?  This was long before they had any sort of live album out whatsoever.

These official live recordings were selected by the band, and were released over a period of several months.  They were not available for long.  They were taken down by the time Leppard changed their site over to promote the X album in 2002.  Taken together, I assembled them in order of release into a a full length live album by Def Leppard — unofficial, yet official just the same!

The first song released was the old acoustic standby “Two Steps Behind” (San Antonio, Texas, 2000).  Joe begins by announcing that they were recording the show, and that this particular night was also the “official opening evening, at it were, of our brand new website, www dot defleppard dot com.  And that’s the reason we’re recording it, because we’re gonna put it on the web.  Worldwide, you guys are going worldwide!”  That certainly explains things!  The recording itself is quite excellent, rich and clear.  You also know there are no overdubs, because chords are missed and the songs goes on.  To me this is the ideal form of live recordings: official, but with a loose “who cares” attitude in regards to fixing mistakes later on.

An older classic, “Women” (Salem, Oregon, 2000) has similar sonic qualities.  It’s also quite bass heavy which is a nice change of pace for this band.  There had already been a B-side live version of “Women” out there for a while, recorded in 1987 for the video In the Round – In Your Face.   This version however has the currently lineup with Vivian Campbell, and a Joe Elliot who hits all the screams at the end.  This would have to be my go-to live version when I want to hear one.

The first then-new Def Leppard song to get the live release treatment was “Demolition Man” from Euphoria.  This one, from Denver, Colorado in 1999, sounds faster than the album version.  On an album of mostly so-so songs, “Demolition Man” at least had some velocity to it, unremarkable as it is.  It’s over and out quickly enough.

LEP JAPAN“When Love & Hate Collide” (Tokyo, 1999) is the second ballad released in the collection.  Although you could get an acoustic version on the bonus disc (Acoustic in Singapore) to Slang in 1996, this was the first full-on electric live release.  This version has some heft to it, and once again I would say this is the go-to version to listen to.

Def Leppard have been playing The Sweet’s “Action” for so long now, that you may as well consider it a built-in part of their set.  This was the first live version made available (London, 1999).  Like “Demolition Man”, it seems faster and much heavier live.  Joe’s voice is sounding pretty ragged at the end — as it should be after a performance like that!

The hit song “Animal” from Hysteria was not readily available in live form, at least on an audio format.  They did it unplugged for Acoustic in Singapore, and there were a couple VHS videos out there too, but nothing on vinyl or CD.  This more recent version (Nashville, Tennessee, 2000) is as reliable as any other.  It’s clear that even though the Euphoria album was shaky, the tour behind it was anything but.

Def Leppard started putting the instrumental scorcher “Switch 625” live again on the Slang tour.  It was welded onto “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” for a High ‘N’ Dry medley, just like it was on album.  This Montreal recording from 1996 is incredible.  Even the ballad has some serious crunch and scream to it.  Would you like some feedback?  Here you go, turn it way up.  Campbell nails the solos on “Heartbreak”, but it is “Switch 625” that is the pièce de résistance.  Just listen to Rick Allen, but don’t leave your jaw on the floor!  At the end, Joe says “Ladies and gentlemen, the best drummer in the world, Mr. Rick Allen!”  Then, a moment later you can hear Joe say, “He is,” to affirm the man’s awesomeness.  These two were released as one solid 8 minute 12 second track.  Then, from the same 1996 show in Montreal is another special track.  Is it “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”?

“Mama take this gin from me,
I can’t drink it anymore,
Where’s the sink, I gotta pee,
Looks like I’m checking into Betty Ford…”

In another moment of “I’m really glad they didn’t cut that,” Joe needed to fill a minute while Phil Collen went to pee!  They left it in.  Joe then turns the microphone over to Phillipe for his song “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, performed acoustically.  Phil does the lead vocal and also the acoustic guitar solo, while it is quite possible that Joe himself went to pee.

“Rock! Rock! Till You Drop” is the only song from Pyromania to be released as part of this series.  By the opening tapes, it sounds like it was the first song of the set in Cardiff, Wales in 1999.  As such, Joe’s got a lot of screaming to do, but he does a good job.  What an opener that must have been!  You have to give these five guys credit for putting a lot of energy into their live performances.  There is a lot of singing, soloing, and riffing to do, and they don’t make it easy for themselves!

The final two songs of the set were recent Euphoria songs, from the Tokyo show in 1999 once again.  The ballad “Goodbye” is just boring as hell.  You gotta get out there and promote the new album and single, but this was never a good album or single.  It was a weak attempt to write another “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”.   Thankfully they saved the best Euphoria song for last, which was “Paper Sun”.  I like when Def Leppard get into that “Gods of War” / “White Lightning” space, and that is what they did with “Paper Sun”.  (It also has shades of “Women”.)  Unfortunately these last two recordings, being new songs and all, feel a little more stiff.  The band weren’t as familiar with them obviously, but I think you can hear it.  Still, what are the chances of Leppard ever playing “Paper Sun” live again?  Slim to none, I’d say.  So who’s complaining?  Not this guy.

Since this time, Leppard have put out plenty of official live product.  There’s the excellent double live Viva! Hysteria, with loads of rarities.  There’s Mirrorball, a double album representing a standard modern Def Leppard concert set.  There was even a bonus live disc added to the deluxe version of Pyromania.  None of those releases have “Demolition Man”, “Goodbye”, “Paper Sun”, “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, or “When Love & Hate Collide”.  That makes this collection pretty special, to this day.

4.5/5 stars

We at LeBrain HQ want to hear from you if you know any more about these tracks.  Any information gleaned such as actual recording or release dates will be happily added to this review.  (Comments regarding trades will be deleted.)

REVIEW: Dio – Holy Diver (deluxe edition)

DIO – Holy Diver (2012 Universal deluxe edition, originally 1983)

Ronnie James Dio often said that the best Dio album was the first.  Fans will always have their own favourites, but there is no denying that Ronnie was right about Holy Diver being a special album.  Dio had always had a knack for rallying talented people around him.  Just look at that lineup:  Ronnie and Vinny Appice had recently fled Black Sabbath.  Jimmy Bain had worked with Dio in Blackmore’s Rainbow, an integral part of that band’s lineup in the Rainbow Rising period.  On guitar – Vivian Campbell, from little known New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Sweet Savage.  A shredder he was, able to compete with the hot flashy players of the 80’s.

Very few people do speedy metal songs better than Ronnie James Dio.  “Stand Up and Shout” is the prototype of such Dio songs.  Youthful and rebellious, “Stand Up and Shout” was exactly what fans in 1983 were craving.  The band got to show off their chops a bit, with Vinny Appice leading the way via a hell of a drum performance.  Then it’s Vivian’s turn to shine on one of the speediest solos laid to tape.  “You are the strongest chain and not just some reflection,” sings Ronnie, inspiring the masses with his positive message of self-belief.

For the first four albums, Dio always put the title track second.  If this holds some special meaning, I do not know.  “Holy Diver”, with its ominous opening, still remains upon  the lofty peak of the best songs Ronnie has ever written.  The riff, written solely by Ronnie, is iconic.  Perhaps it is not recognized on the level of immortal riffs such as “Whole Lotta Love”, but among metal fans, it is held in high regard.  “Holy Diver” is the shiniest jewel in the crown, a massive track that just has everything.  Bain and Appice formed a tight rhythm section with the exact right amount of heft.  The song is flawless…shiny diamonds indeed.


Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue, something is coming for you.

“Gypsy” is a knockout.  Ronnie belting in full voice with a solid mid-tempo song behind him is always a pleasure.  This is Vivian’s first writing credit on a Dio album.  The guitar solo could use some focus, but I think the directive here was “just shred”.  One of Dio’s most pop moments (in terms of melody only) is “Caught in the Middle”, one of his catchiest, most concise and direct songs.  Even Vivian sticks to point on the solo.  But “Caught in the Middle” is soon eclipsed by an even more exciting song:  “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  The acoustic fake-out intro is a trick Dio pulled again later on “The Last in Line”, but when the song really starts, it’s friggin’ frantic.  It’s like the wind.  These guys had so much energy, it is remarkable.   “Straight Through the Heart” has balls to it, it’s a groovy tune.  I loved Halestorm’s cover of it immensely.  I think they really caught and emphasized what is great about the song.  Lzzy Hale is one of very few people who can do Dio justice vocally.

The slow intro to “Invisible” reminds me of a 1987-era Whitesnake ballad.  This is another trick!  It stops and abruptly turns into another Dio stomper of high quality.  There is very little letup on this Dio album.  The momentum is maintained by the stunning single “Rainbow in the Dark”.  That’s Ronnie on keyboards, by the way.  I have a story about this song.

Our local rock station, 107.5 Dave Rocks, has a 3:00 contest called the Tedious Tiresome Trivia in the Tri-Cities, or the TTT in the TC.  What makes it so tedious and tiresome are the callers.  Craig seems to attract the…how should I say this? The most “interesting” callers.  The most notorious of these is “Bore-linda” who has a legion of haters who can’t stand her perky tone.  (She’s actually a very nice lady in real life.)  Craig Fee would receive emails from annoyed listeners saying, “Hang up on Bore-linda!  Play some Dio!”  So that’s exactly what Craig did, and he chose “Rainbow in the Dark” as the song.  And Bore-linda calls in a lot.  And Craig hangs up a lot.  For a while, “Rainbow in the Dark” was played almost daily between 3 and 4 o’clock.  And you know what?  It never got tiring.  Every single time it came on was a fist-pumper.

Holy Diver deserves a dramatic ending, and that would be “Shame on the Night”.  Copying the template of a song like Sabbath’s “Lonely is the Word”, it occupies the same kind of slow-paced dark metal space.  Vivian’s guitar intro is very cool, but the song just pounds.

The bonus CD is chock full of Dio goodness.  Deluxe editions should always present a complete set of B-sides.  This has the three from this era, including the studio cut “Evil Eyes”.  This excellent, cruisin’ tune was re-recorded for The Last in Line, and the B-side version has remained obscure until now.   Vivian has a lot of different solos on this version, and they are all cool.  Then, essential cuts “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” are both live B-sides, every bit as electrifying as the originals.  They are simply more raw, probably a little faster, and there is nothing more powerful than Ronnie James Dio’s voice live in the raw.

The balance of the disc is fleshed out by six live songs recorded for radio by the King Biscuit Flower Hour.  They sound excellent, thanks to King Biscuit.  You get “Stand Up and Shout” a second time, but the rest of the live songs are not repeats.  In the mix are some Sabbath (“Children of the Sea”) and some Rainbow (“Man on the Silver Mountain/Starstruck”).  Of the two, “Children of the Sea” fares better from the Dio band’s interpretation.  To be fair, I think Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore both have so much personality, that it is daunting to cover them no matter who you are.  I think Vivian’s style works less well on the Rainbow song than it does with Sabbath’s material.  The rest of the songs (“Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark”, “Shame on the Night”) are all quality Dio tracks.  Although the market is now inundated with live Dio packages, it is still a delight to have these early recordings on CD.

I needn’t divulge that this deluxe edition is loaded with cool liner notes and pictures.  You have come to expect that from a good deluxe edition.  And Holy Diver is quite good indeed.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Two Steps Behind” (1993 CD single)

This is the sixth and final part in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize era, including hard to find B-sides!  This is a bit of a “bonus” review, since this song wasn’t actually on Adrenalize!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0014DEF LEPPARD – “Two Steps Behind” (1993 Phonogram)

From a B-side to an A-side in its own right, “Two Steps Behind” has seen more releases than most Def Leppard songs. Sure, it’s significant that it was Def Leppard’s first acoustic song, but it’s really not that exciting.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger comes a-knockin’ and says “I need a rock band to give me ballad for my new movie” in that threatening Arnie voice of his, nobody’s going to refuse him.*

However it unfolded, “Two Steps Behind” was selected for the Arnie turd, Last Action Hero in 1992, next to bands such as AC/DC, Alice in Chains and Megadeth.  In comparison to the aggressive contributions from them, Def Leppard’s track seemed hopelessly behind the times.  It still charted in the US, going to #5.  It was spruced up with strings courtesy of Michael Kamen, and was given a high-budget music video.

This single falls between two albums.  Visually, the cover art recalls the prior Def Leppard singles with its yellow and red lego, but features the photographic style that the Retro-Active singles would sport.  Since it cleans up a few B-sides from the era that didn’t carry over onto Retro-Active, I’ve decided to include it here.

The first B-side is a “warts and all” acoustic version of “Tonight”.  This was later released on the deluxe Adrenalize as the “Sun Studios version”.  In many regards, it’s as good as the original.  Perhaps it’s even better, with its sparse but rich sound.  Without the layers of a typical Def Leppard recording, the song breaths like never before.

The final track on the single (and this series!) to discuss is “S.M.C.” which is still unavailable anywhere else.  Unfortunately it is only 1:14 long.  Written and performed solely by Collen, it is a pretty acoustic instrumental track.  Jaunty and light, it sounds classical in vibe.  Leppard fans would be well advised to seek out this single, to add this brief guitar workout to their Leppard libraries.

4/5 stars

* I’m not sure that this is exactly how it played out, but it could have!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0015

Adrenalize singles:

Part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”
Part 2: “Make Love Like a Man”
Part 3: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”
Part 4: “Heaven Is”
Part 5: “Tonight”
Bonus Part 6: “Two Steps Behind”